Wicksteed Park has been awarded more than £1 million to restore its lake in its founder’s vision.
The Heritage Lottery Fund has granted the Kettering amusement park cash to clean its historic lake and build a beach the size of two swimming pools to encourage children to paddle in its water.
Oliver Wicksteed, great grandson of park founder Charles Wicksteed and chairman of the Wicksteed Charitable Trust, said: “This is fantastic news for the park, our visitors and the staff who put so much hard work into making it such a popular attraction.
“The park operates as a charity and the trust works very hard to maintain Charles Wicksteed’s vision of sustainability, encouraging families to lead a healthy, energetic lifestyle and re-engaging young people with the outdoors and adventure.
“I believe that these improvements and additions would be just the sort of things Charles Wicksteed would have carried out if he were still alive today.
“Large elements of the park, such as the lake, are free for the public to enjoy. This project will go much further than just restoring former glory and I am genuinely excited about all of the new activities and habitats that will be created around the lake, ensuring that it can continue to be enjoyed by future generations.”
A beach on the lake’s southwest shore will give visitors a landing spot for new family kayaks to replace the park’s old, hard-to-row boats as well as a place for children to paddle.
The largest island will also have a landing spot. Natural play areas would be created in several areas of the park with rope swings, den building, play logs and climbing trees.
The derelict Round House near the lake will be refurbished as a bandstand for concerts or an education centre. A new surfaced path around the lake will improve access for people less mobile.
Emma Sayer, head of Heritage Lottery Fund East Midlands, said: “We at the Heritage Lottery Fund are delighted to be able to support Wicksteed Park with this £1 million grant.
“Charles Wicksteed’s vision was to create a beautiful landscape where children could play freely and people from across the community could come to relax and enjoy the park’s many attractions. This project will fully restore the lake, one of the park’s key historic features, ensuring that it can be enjoyed by visitors for many generations to come.”
The main lake at Wicksteed is an important landscape feature and a reminder of Mr Wicksteed’s original vision for this public landscape. The main lake at Wicksteed Park was created between 1919-21 prior to the park being formally opened in 1921.
The lake was used for regattas, swimming, boating and water polo, with the park advertised as ‘The Gateway to Health and Happiness’.
The water for the lake is supplied by the River Ise which enters through original Charles Wicksteed-designed sluices. Over the years, however, large amounts of sediment have collected across the lake, reducing its depth to less than half a metre across much of its area.
This in turn has created the ideal conditions for massive blanket weed growth, making the lake visually unattractive, unpleasant for boating and destroying the habitat for wildlife such as wildfowl and aquatic plants.
The restoration will entail dredging and deepening the main lake and new sluices will be installed. Reed beds will also be planted alongside areas of grass wetland to improve biodiversity and wildlife habitats.
Russell Roberts, leader of Kettering Council, said: “The council is delighted that Wicksteed Park has secured funding from the Lottery. The council has supported this project since its inception, and is making a financial contribution as well because we recognise the huge improvements this will bring for the Park and its users, and for local people.”
Kettering MP Philip Hollobone said: “I am delighted that Wicksteed Park has been successful in its application and I know the park will put the funds to extremely good use for the benefits of local people.”
The local industrialist founded the Wicksteed Trust in 1916 to create a leisure park for the benefit of the local community. Mr Wicksteed was a pioneer in the history of children’s play and used Wicksteed Park as a test bed for ideas that were later exported worldwide. At Wicksteed Park, child-centred play was given precedence over a traditional park design.
The Wicksteed engineering works produced ammunition during WWI, a by-product of which was metal tubes that Mr Wicksteed used to create and install the first playground equipment in the park in 1917.
He soon broke away from the traditional equipment common in nineteenth century parks, inventing enormous swings, slides and roundabouts which became standard equipment throughout the world.
The history of children’s play equipment in public parks is virtually synonymous with that of Wicksteed Park’s development. By 1938 Mr Wicksteed’s works had supplied 4,000 playgrounds and by 1967 this had risen to 10,000 worldwide.